Recommerce Revolution: From Thrift Store Finds to Digital Dominance


During the late 1980s and early 1990s, my art school friends and I were at the forefront of pioneering the art of “up-cycling” vintage clothing…long before it became a buzzword on every marketer’s lips. Our weekends were dedicated to scouring thrift stores in pursuit of that rare and unique 50¢ gem.

Fast forward to now, and the once humble practice of up-cycling has exploded into a substantial and colossal business. The realm of resale now encompasses everything from hypebeast GOAT sneaker drops to rare, six-figure luxury handbags. The world of resale is bustling with activity and jam-packed with a slew of new jargon, platforms, and rules.

Join me as we delve into this fascinating and complex world through the perspective of an E-commerce professional (who once was a devoted thrift store addict.)

In the ever-shifting landscape of sustainable fashion and consumer goods, the term “Recommerce” is entering the spotlight. This trend (which champions the sale of pre-owned items) is like a rebellious teenager in the world of traditional consumption, leading towards a more circular economy where reuse, recycling, and resale are in the forefront. It’s not just changing how we shop; it’s giving brands a modern makeover in their environmental and sustainability agendas.

Now, for the jargon: “Resale” is the OG, the transfer of goods from one owner to another. “Secondhand Commerce” is pretty straightforward, but emphasizes a prolonged lifecycle of products. “Circular Economy” is the big thinker, with Recommerce at its heart, aiming to minimize waste and optimize resource use.

Now enter the new kid on the block – “Pre-loved Commerce,” adding a bit of sentimentality to describe previously cherished items. “Thrift” has ditched its dusty thrift store image and gone digital, making sustainable shopping accessible to everyone, anywhere. Consignment” brings in a third wheel to guarantee “item quality,” because you know, we all have standards, right?

Upcycling” is more the artistic rebel, giving old items a makeover, while “Vintage Trading” is like the stock market for aged (yet high-quality) items. “Sustainable Fashion” and “Eco-Commerce” are the green warriors, underscoring the eco-friendly vibes of Recommerce.

Together, these terms are like characters in a fashion novel, telling an epic tale of Recommerce, promoting sustainability, reducing waste, and flexing creative reuse in this modern consumer drama.

Who would’ve thought that by snagging an old suit at a second-hand store (possibly with a questionable backstory), I was secretly saving the planet? Maybe a tiny part of me knew this was a better call than diving into the mall’s abyss of low-quality products or those overpriced poser outfits. It’s like I’ve been an eco-warrior in disguise all along.

Why Now? Why This Trend?

Recommerce is gaining popularity because it aligns perfectly with the rising sustainability trend. But It’s not just a passing trend; it’s a global shift towards eco-friendly alternatives, giving traditional shopping a run for its money. The choice to minimize waste and diminish new production demand has become a decision the customer wants to make (and not rely on brands to figure this out).

Recommerce is a rebellion against throwaway culture that has plagued us for years. Fast fashion’s heyday has left a sour taste in our mouths, and has prompted a growing preference for second-hand finds and high-quality clothing as sustainable alternatives.

This sustainable shift isn’t lost on environmentally aware consumers, especially younger generations who prioritize ethical consumption. Take my Gen-Z daughter, for example. She’s all about those swag-filled hauls (forgive the cringe, kids) at places like L-Train and Buffalo Exchange in NYC . Forget about throwaway, fast fashion that falls apart in a week; the kids are after sweet vintage pieces that come with a history of love, holes and all, hoping to last longer and sidestep the landfill dilemma. Sustainability is their fashion statement.

And it’s a fashion statement that is growing. According to Tech Crunch, Recommerce is expanding five times faster than the broader online retail market. Experts point this surge to rising environmental issues awareness as well as increasing preferences for sustainable and affordable shopping options.

Fashion Recommerce

The fashion and apparel sector, known for its huge carbon footprint, is currently witnessing a remarkable boom in the Recommerce market. Expected to hit $53 billion in 2023, the second-hand and resale fashion market is reflected in platforms like GOAT. This online platform, dealing in authenticated second-hand sneakers and accessories, boasts 600,000 sellers and 30 million users, and achieved a $3.7 billion market valuation as of June 2021. Levi’s has also entered the recommerce arena with its own site and buyback program, allowing customers to exchange old garments for gift cards. These items are then cleaned, sorted, and resold on Levi’s second-hand website, where they claim to reduce personal carbon footprints by over 30%.

One of our clients, Thousand Fell (a leader in sustainable fashion) has a mission to combat the industry’s waste crisis. With 97% of the 2.4 billion shoes sold in the U.S. yearly ending up in landfills, the company has introduced a buy-back program. Customers can send back their old Thousand Fell shoes for free and receive a $20 credit towards new, eco-friendly footwear. This initiative revolutionizes waste management in fashion, as returned shoes are broken down and their materials (like rubber and rPET) are reused in new products. Founders Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum also spearhead SuperCircle, a platform dedicated to facilitating the recycling of textile waste. This move by Thousand Fell and SuperCircle is a perfect representation of a fashion brand that’s both stylish and environmentally responsible.

Soho staple vintage shop, What Goes Around Comes Around, is another big player championing the luxury vintage fashion segment in the Recommerce space. This brand’s commitment to high-quality, pre-owned designer pieces has carved out a unique niche in the market. Seth Weisser and Gerard Maione established What Goes Around Comes Around NYC in 1993 when they noticed the absence of a curated, well-merchandised approach in the vintage market, unlike the successes seen in traditional retail.

When I first moved to New York, I remember encountering WGACA – it was the fanciest vintage store I had ever seen. The store was renowned for stocking the best of the best in vintage pieces. Pioneers in their field, their team had a knack for sourcing extraordinary designer items and rare jeans that became the envy of many collectors. What started as just a vintage store evolved under their vision into a veritable mini-empire.

We recently had the opportunity to collaborate with them on a brand positioning, research, and insights project. Our collaboration not only highlighted their understanding of the Recommerce market but also revealed the evolving dynamics of this sector. As we delved into the nuances of their business model, we discovered a remarkable alignment with the emerging trends in sustainable fashion, particularly resonating with the values and preferences of Gen Z, whose buying and reselling habits become both a statement and a savvy entrepreneurial venture.

One of Sweden’s Shopify Plus clients, Madison Avenue Couture, has become a standout in the luxury goods resale market, transforming luxury handbags into valuable investment assets. Founded in 2010 by CEO Judy Taylor, the New York-based company specializes in rare brands like Hermès and Chanel, appealing to both trend shoppers and avid collectors. Its direct ownership of a unique, authentic inventory enables swift deliveries and VIP personalized shopping experiences, either in-person at its NYC showroom or virtually.

The company’s distinct approach includes a meticulous authentication process, ensuring each item’s genuineness. Renowned for its exclusive inventory, such as the coveted Birkin Himalaya with diamond hardware, Madison Avenue Couture attracts top-tier collectors and offers educational support for new buyers. This strategy, coupled with a 92% increase in luxury handbag prices over a decade, cements the company’s position as a leader in luxury resale and a reliable choice for fashionable investments.

Depop is the cool cat of peer-to-peer social shopping. With a whopping 26 million users, 90% of them barely old enough to rent a car, Depop has crafted a fusion of social media and e-commerce. It’s not just an app; it’s a vibrant ecosystem of hip, eco-conscious buyers and sellers. So successful that Etsy took notice and spent $1.6 billion to make Depop its trendiest acquisition yet.

Patagonia isn’t just outfitting you for the great outdoors; they’ve mastered the art of sustainability with their Worn Wear program. This initiative encourages customers to trade in their used Patagonia garments for store credit. The company then cleans and repairs these items for resale. This program not only promotes sustainability but has also created a lucrative business model. In 2019 alone, Patagonia’s Worn Wear program generated over $10 million in sales.

Data and Market Analysis

According to a report by ThredUp, the global secondhand market is projected to reach $64 billion by 2024, nearly 1.5 times the size of the fast fashion market, mostly due to environmentally concious younger consumers. Gen Z and Millennials are adopting secondhand shopping at a rate 2.5 times faster than other age groups. This notable shift is the rise in luxury Recommerce, which is growing at a staggering rate of 12% per year, as reported by Bain & Company.

Technological Aspects

The rise of AI technology in recommerce, particularly in luxury goods, has been pivotal. For instance, The RealReal uses AI algorithms to authenticate millions of items, significantly reducing the time and cost associated with manual authentication. This technology can identify counterfeits with high accuracy, bolstering consumer trust.

Blockchain technology is also emerging as a game-changer. For example, companies like VeChain are using blockchain to track the lifecycle of products, providing consumers with transparent information about the origins and history of secondhand items. This technology not only combats counterfeit goods but also adds an additional layer of trust and assurance for consumers in the recommerce marketplace.

In Summary

Is Recommerce just a fleeting trend? It’s more like a revolution in retail. This model is not only eco-conscious but also economically viable and resonates with the next generation of consumers. Plus, the innovative business models and technology platforms highlight the sector’s adaptability and potential for growth.

Recommerce is about redefining value. It embracing sustainability and even fosters a sense of community. For those of us who started with modest thrift store hunts in the mean streets of Baltimore in the 1990’s, this evolution is both inspiring and validating. The Recommerce wave is here, and it’s reshaping the retail world in the most sustainable and fashionable way possible. While I do miss finding a Harris tweed blazer for $2 or an Eames chair for $10 (those days are NEVER coming back), I realize that a score is a score. And if you can turn a pre-loved item into a “peri-loved” item, then it’s all worth it.





Richard Agerbeek

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